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The Heart of Paris Design, Community & the Youth

The Heart of Paris, a community narrative

Stills by Kevin Couliau
Interview by Gino Delmas
In Paris' 9th arrondissement, Stephane Ashpool is known to one and all. The success of his clothing brand, Pigalle, could be enough to satisfy his ambition but this basketball nut dedicates his life to improve his neighborhood. For the past 10 years, Steph has brought life to an unconventional court he created in Paris's most sulfurous area. This strange playing field stuck between Haussmannian buildings in rue Duperré has become a tourist attraction and epicenter for a whole community. We got to sit with Stephane in between 3 on 3 games and a group photo to discuss his background and Pigalle's story.
  • Asphalt Chronicles

    Tell us the story behind this court?

    Stéphane Ashpool


    Originally this space was a parking lot owned by the nearby high school. Right before building the court in 2007, I began talking with the mayor of the town hall in the 9th arrondissement, Jacques Bravo, with whom I had a good relationship. We had just lost a young man, David Almeida, who had been stabbed to death just a few streets away, which angered many people. We had not yet opened our first store in Pigalle but were hosting parties with my crew, Pain O Chokolat. I started making a name for myself in the community, and the city hall had already installed a hoop at the end of the parking lot. It was grey and dirty, where people would hang out, pee, or do drugs. It wasn't a good environment to live in.

    The first Pigalle court logo - June 2010 © Kevin Couliau
    The first Pigalle court logo - June 2010 © Kevin Couliau

    In the summer of 2008, I organized the first tournament on the court and had asked my artist friend, Yué Wu, to enhance the court. I was inspired by a photo I had seen in the book « Where'd you get those ? » by Bobbito Garcia. We painted a crowd of people from the neighborhood. Later this year, Nike came around, they contacted me to use the court to welcome LeBron James in Paris. Straight away, we started talking about refurbishing the court. I went back to the city hall to confirm the whole renovation. LeBron came at the beginning of September. The colors of the first design were paying homage to Los Angeles, and the movie « White men can't jump,» with orange, salmon red, and yellow. Then we added celebrities on the wall. Everything was spontaneous; we didn't have any authorization to paint the full court. We did it anyway. Nike came in, and everything went further.

    Pigalle's first design by Yué Wu - June 2010 © Kevin Couliau
    Pigalle's first design by Yué Wu - June 2010 © Kevin Couliau
  • AC

    How was the design process for this new version of the court?

    SA

    The first court was complete cement, but two and half years ago, the city hall wanted to shut it down due to complaints about the noise. I started panicking when mothers in the neighborhood launched a petition to close it. It was unthinkable to see all the effort we put in disappear because of five neighbors complaining. It was during Pigalle's second collection launch that I insisted with Nike to change the court. We showcased the clothes in the school with the youth, projected "Ensemble," a documentary about our work, and inaugurated the new court. I know playgrounds by heart; I love all the technical things, and I'm always trying to bring a different esthetic. I pushed to use EPDM (recycled products) for the floor.

    Ill Studio's Pigalle court design  - 2018 ©Kevin Couliau
    Ill Studio's Pigalle court design - 2018 ©Kevin Couliau

    Ill Studio, the graphic design studio that has always done my logos, knows me very well because we have shared offices for 10 years. In each of my collections, they added extra details and helped with the graphic design. I often come up with a theme idea; then, they brainstorm bring everything to life. I trust them on everything, but I knew the ground had to be perfect because it is such a sensitive issue. Players know what they want under their feet. We went back and forth and exchanged ideas by questioning everything. For the last court, it took us fifteen tries. It truly is a collaboration.

    Artist Tristan Baraduc working on the technical fade - 2018 ©Kevin Couliau
    Artist Tristan Baraduc working on the technical fade - 2018 ©Kevin Couliau
  • AC

    How has this court changed the neighborhood?

    SA

    North of the 9th arrondissement, a large amount of social housing developed by the various mayor's social inclusion initiatives produced a significant population diversity. Many kids were very young at the time. Their older brothers know us and feel at home and safe here. Everything happened very naturally, and it quickly developed into a community. To me, this court is the best example of how social inclusion works by mixing people and bringing them together.

    The Pigalle community in full effect - 2018 ©Kevin Couliau
    The Pigalle community in full effect - 2018 ©Kevin Couliau
  • AC

    Growing up, where would you play outdoors?

    SA

    From 14 years old, I would play at Bir Hakeim. I like to talk. I was timid socially, but on the court, I wanted to show everyone who I was. From 14 to 19 years old, I would spend my time playing outdoors with Paul (Hamy), my best friend. It was our life. The father of Paul was from New York, and so we'd go there every summer. We were fully exposed to basketball culture. I also played club basketball, and I trained like crazy, but I didn't have the talent. My inspirations were Pistol Pete Maravich, Nick Van Exel, and Terrell Brandon. I liked those guys because they played with guts and a different style.

    Pigalle founder, Stephane Ashpool - 2015 ©Kevin Couliau
    Pigalle founder, Stephane Ashpool - 2015 ©Kevin Couliau
  • AC

    How is playing club basketball and outdoors different for you?

    SA

    What I would learn in club basketball was more valuable than the other way. By training so much, I was fit and had endurance. I felt freer outdoors and could live the lifestyle with music and friends. We would play all day long and then go out at night to pick up girls, and then the next day, by 1 pm, we were back on the court. That was the best lifestyle and a good life.

  • AC

    When did you decide to take care of the youth of the neighborhood?

    SA

    My first summer job was coaching. I got my diplomas very early, even though I was terrible at school, but I wanted to make my mother happy. I always got along well with the kids, which is a very healthy and straightforward relationship. It makes me feel good, and it's a way to emancipate myself. I work a lot on the court with the community's youth, which is like a breath of air for me. Over time I wanted to take them all with me on trips. In between, Pigalle worked well internationally, and I grew as an entrepreneur. I tried to open this Pigalle Basketball store for a long time. It has been a childhood dream for me: This store and this court are youth centers. I don't like fancy cars; I make money and spend it to take the kids on trips.

    The Pigalle court in Rue Duperré - 2018 ©Kevin Couliau
    The Pigalle court in Rue Duperré - 2018 ©Kevin Couliau

    It is what I want to do, and it gives others a good example. We all come from different backgrounds, and I find it interesting to discover other cultures with your friends. Basketball is the common thread, but it helps us uncover the rest. That's how I have always traveled. I would go with my sneakers, and the first thing I would do is go on a court, which always helped meeting people. Here it was the same thing but with 20 people. I was always about bringing people together; we made a crew called Pain o Chokolat, where we would gather people for music festivals, and then there was the Pompon (a night club on rue Paradis), and now it's about the kids. I have been lucky, but a part of me wants to make sure that they take up where I have left off and do the same things for the neighborhood. It is a story of brotherhood, and I have seen them grow up over the last 10 years, incredible.

    The Pigalle Family - 2018 ©Kevin Couliau
    The Pigalle Family - 2018 ©Kevin Couliau
  • AC

    What's your role in the neighborhood?

    SA

    For someone as passionate about basketball as me, It has been an ongoing childhood dream. I never let any opportunity slip and have always done the best that I could, without controlling everything. I don't think about the money. What matters to me the most is social inclusion and trying to be an example one day so people can say this is how our big brother has changed this place. Here you're not allowed to smoke weed or drink alcohol in front of people; most of these kids would have ended differently without this court. At this age, everything goes super fast...

  • AC

    What are your thoughts on the popularity of this court?

    SA

    It has become a tourist attraction, and I think that's great. It inspires people from abroad and draws them to the neighborhood. This court is a breath of fresh air and is the fruit of such much effort, so I am happy that people come here and appreciate it.

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